PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Just as work is nearing completion on a multimillion-dollar transportation project in Caribou that is aimed at easing the flow of truck traffic through central Aroostook County, officials in Presque Isle have been informed that their own transportation project is closer to reality.
During a City Council meeting last month, City Manager Jim Bennett announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had recommended that Alternative 7 be the route for the proposed bypass through the city. Decades in the making, the project has faced fiscal delays and public criticism.
Bennett said he had received a letter indicating that the Army Corps had selected Alternative 7 because the organization believed it would be the least environmentally damaging.
The bypass plan will now go through federal review.
Once approved, Alternative 7 will route traffic around Presque Isle, beginning from U.S. Route 1 just south of the Perkins Road, cutting across the Henderson and Cross roads, then traveling across farmland and crossing Route 10. It then will cross more farmland, cut across Conant Road, then intersect with State Street Extension before connecting with Fort Road. Officials anticipate building a bridge over the Aroostook River, with the route crossing Reach Road and cutting across land west of Higgins Road, finally connecting with Route 1 south of the Brewer Road intersection.
Bennett said he believed the Maine Department of Transportation would receive the nod to construct the bypass in the next four to eight months.
“This is a major step along the way to make this a reality,” said Bennett.
Several years ago, the state introduced a plan to construct the bypass to take traffic away from the downtown, but the idea has been controversial. While some people think it would enhance the downtown and make it more inviting for shoppers, others feel rerouting traffic around the downtown area would adversely affect downtown businesses.
Bennett said if Alternative 7 is indeed chosen and constructed, it will help remove some of the heavier truck traffic from Main Street, which flows through the downtown.
“This will improve safety and make the downtown a more attractive area for visitors to the city,” Bennett said during the meeting.
In order to mitigate any potential damage to the downtown business community, Presque Isle officials have concentrated heavily on better advertising that section of the city while also brainstorming ways to make it a more popular destination.
A Downtown Revitalization Committee was formed to generate ideas and changes were soon visible in the area. It started with the establishment of park benches and more flower pots. A giant mural adorning a concrete support wall was created to showcase the city’s educational opportunities in SAD 1, at Northern Maine Community College and the University of Maine at Presque Isle.
More events were scheduled in the downtown, including street fairs and New Year’s Eve celebrations.
In 2009, the city unveiled its new logo and slogan “Downtown Presque Isle — Shine On. Good Times.”
There are now fewer empty storefronts, and the reopening of the popular Braden Theater has helped to draw people back into the area.
The theater closed its doors in January 1994 after 43 years in business because of competition from an eight-screen multiplex theater that opened at the mall. That theater closed in 2005, and the Braden reopened in 2008.
Eighteen miles away in Caribou, the 3.8-mile-long, $20 million Caribou Connector is nearly complete. Work began in 2010 on the connector, which begins just south of the Caribou Country Club on Route 161 and heads east, passes over Route 1 and again over Route 89 and continues west until it connects with routes 1 and 89 south of Bennett Drive.
Entrance and exit ramps are in place leading to and from Route 1, commonly called Van Buren Road in the area.
The intent of the two-stage project was in part to enable Caribou to move ahead with downtown development plans while making it more pedestrian friendly. Work began in 2010 and a tentative opening date of Aug. 17 has been set.